The Havana Airport Departure Experience

The morning of our Havana airport departure we just decided to take it easy. We woke up late and then went shopping at a grocery store to see if we could bring back some rum and coffee.

The grocery store experience was quite shocking and unlike anything else we’d ever experienced before. We will have a future post on that’s in the coming days.

Havana Fake Supermarket Sign

On our way, we saw one of the taxi drivers outside that helped us the night before, so we flagged him down to make sure that we had a confirmed ride to the airport for a few hours later. He happily agreed, and said he would be back in 2 hours waiting for us. Sure enough, 2 hours later on the dot he was out front, smiling and easger to help.

His 1976 LADA had all the modern conveniences, including a cup holder that he installed himself. He says “it gets hot in Havana, so I wanted to have a place to keep my drink!”

LADA Cup Holder

Before you depart Havana airport, PLEASE make sure that you know which terminal you are leaving from. Terminal 2 is Alaska and Southwest, while Terminal 3 is for other airlines. This is the modern international terminal while Terminal 2 is due for some change soon.

Havana Airport Taxi

Since there was only one flight a day on Alaska, the check-in wait wasn’t too long. Kudos to Alaska for also having a Premier lane for First Class and MVP passengers. Other airlines don’t have this, so I give Alaska a big thumbs up for taking this little step to make the first class and 75k passengers feel more welcome.

Havana Alaska Airlines Checkin

The check-in itself was an epic shitshow, and I’m not going to write about that here. I’ll save that for a post in and of itself, and just keep this strictly to the airport and the process.

Havana Alaska Check In Lines

Once we finally got our boarding passes, the next step was immigration control. An important note here is that EVERY booth that you see in the below picture that has a light on has a person inside. While you only see one line of people forming, you should know that each and every person inside is working and able to take your passport. Simply find an open booth and approach. You will be attended quickly and efficiently, and probably with a smile!

Havana Immigration Counter

Once you’re through there is a simple X ray scan (shoes on, laptops out…) and you’re dumped into the general waiting area.

Havana Airport General Waiting Area

Duty Free

There is a duty free location, although the prices are exactly the same as they are on the streets, as the price of rum is the same all throughout the country and is set by the government. If you’ve got room in your luggage, just buy some at the local supermarket and save yourself the time and stress of forming a line inside. It’s ridiculously slow and poorly staffed.

Havana Airport Cuba Duty Free

VIP Lounge

There is a VIP lounge, and since we were first class passengers, we thought that we would have access. Well, think again. We asked how we could get access and the desk attendant said, after putting down her Facebook, “by flying first class!” I told her that we are flying in first class, and then she said, “everyone but Alaska, they don’t have an agreement with us yet.” According to what I saw, we weren’t missing much. There was an unmanned bar with 6 bottles of liquor, a couple glasses, and a fridge with soda and water. That’s it.

Havana VIP Lounge

Havana Airport VIP lounge

And of course, it was stocked by “Cuba Catering, a high class service…”

Havana CubaCatering

By this point the Alaska flight was landing from Los Angeles and passengers were deplaning. Shortly we would be on our way.

Alaska Airlines Havana Arrival

Again, from reading other people’s posts online, I expected bedlam and all hell to be breaking loose inside the terminal. What we found was a calm, quiet, and relaxed experience. The people were friendly enough, the coffee was strong, and the lines were short. The only hiccup was in immigration, and that’s because we didn’t realize about the “lights-on” policy. Arrive two hours early and you should be fine.

Author: Jon Nickel-D'Andrea

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  1. I’m glad to see that the times have changed. When I visited Cuba in 1982, the immigration booth was one of the most intimidating and gruesome experiences of my trip. The booth’s windows were one way opaque glass with mirrors all around. Effectively you communicated through the opaque glass with someone you could not see but obviously the immigration officer could see all around you. They spoke through a microphone and it had that computer generated voice response sound to it. It was a very unpleasant unforgettable experience bordering on traumatic.

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    • For sure, Omar! I’m sure a lot has changed, I’d encourage you to head back and check it out again.

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